Reading time: 3 mins.
Two people live in the same world. They go through a remarkably similar experience. Yet, they react to it in starkly different ways. It’s all around us, and it makes writing fiction fun.
Every night during basketball season, seven days a week, I change into black slacks, black shoes and a black-and-white striped shirt, strap a whistle around my neck and officiate a game.
Terrific prep work for a writer. Why?
Because I meet characters. Often the protagonist, dressed as a head coach, is at the end of his rope. Nobody better to write about. One fascinating aspect is how they’ll react to situations. Two successive days last week in the life of a basketball referee to illustrate my point.
Tuesday night, a coach had a different view of just about everything happening in the game. During the second half he decided to explain to me how pathetic I am – that was his word, pathetic – and then add what he considered supporting evidence in a 30-second rant. The game was going on and my ear was three feet from his mouth. When a ball went out of bounds, I held my hand up and told him he was finished. He thought otherwise and continued his tirade. I turned and gave him a technical. In short order, a site administrator came over and provided escort services. His team lost the ball and gave away two free throws. They lost the game when a last-second shot that would have tied the score rimmed out.
The following night – how much can a person improve in 24 hours? – I was in a different gym with a different coach. The game wasn’t going his way. He was frustrated. After one particular call when I had to walk right next to him to report the foul, he stood, put his hands on his waist and tried to lodge a complaint. “You,” he started, before realizing he didn’t have any kind of an argument, “didn’t even shave today.” He threw his arms up and trudged back to his seat on the bench. The story I wrote in my mind is that he realized my call was correct, giving him nothing to complain about.
“You got that call right, Coach,” I said. I hadn’t shaved.
I was the same person both nights. The game situation was pretty much the same both nights. These two characters were living through almost the same event. Yet they each had a vastly different experience. And so did I.